Out today on DVD:
KILL BILL VOL. 1 (Dir. Quentin Tarantino, 2003)
It’s obvious from the first minute where we’re going here as old '70s feature attraction titles are used directly and the music accompanying is suitably retro as well. From that we’re thrust head first into a tale of a woman whose fiancée is killed at the wedding chapel by a gung ho team of international assassins.
This is pure setup to a revenge plot that seems borrowed from the classic Truffaut film THE BRIDE WORE BLACK. It's funny that when Uma introduces herself early on her name is bleeped out. She's known simply as "the Bride."
One by one she tracks down and annihilates the killers (actually half of the killers on her hand written list - the second half will be taken care of in KILL BILL VOLUME 2 presumably). I would describe the plot in more detail but truth be told that's all the plot there is.
This movie is basically one big scorned-woman-kicks-major-ass sequence after another. That's not to say it doesn’t have merit. It has plenty of fire in its belly, and many of the stunts and tracking shots are beautifully done and a lot of watchable fun.
The downside of it is with so many slick stylized action movies in the last several years at times this can feel like little more than a thinking man’s CHARLIE'S ANGELS, but at least Uma doesn't do a backwards moon-walk like Drew Barrymore did after viciously finishing off a room full of adversaries.
Driving home the notion of cartoon violence is actual animation interspersed into the action.
Sonny Chiba provides another drive home to the world of martial arts cinema as the sword maker that hooks up Uma with her weapon of choice. “I need Japanese steel” the Bride says in Japanese just moments after saying she knows very little Japanese.
It beats you over the head over and over that when Tarantino worked as a clerk at Video Archives in Hermosa Beach, California he watched every Hong Kong martial-arts movie that was on their shelves.
Uma Thurman puts in a performance that is mannered and precise, a true display of stoic grace that is incredibly admirable in the middle of all this noise. Dialogue is spare, blood sprays like a lawn sprinkler in sheets, and punctuating rifts by the 5,6,7, & 8's all compete for your attention, especially in a sequence set in a palace of a Hong Kong nightclub.
From a film geek poseur point of view, this is a conceptually messy movie that feels like Tarantino exploiting his worst impulses, but for the casual moviegoer just looking for cheap thrills the first installment of KILL BILL delivers.
If only its edge was as sharp as Thurman’s Japanese steel.
DVD Special Features: A decent but truly inconsequential 20 minute making of featurette is the main deal here. There are trailers for all the other Tarentino flicks too, and those are actually really nice to view in order.
At first I was disappointed that the disc didn't have director's commentary but then recalling how Tarantino rambled on the commentary for RESERVOIR DOGS (1992) going off on anecdotes unrelated to the action playing out on the screen, I've concluded that that's not that fatal an omission.
Last thought: unless you absolutely have to own the DVD immediately I’d recommend waiting for the DVD release of KBV2 next fall. You just know that both films will be packaged together in a spiffy deluxe edition. But, of course, from the numbers of sales yesterday of the KBV1 DVD, it’s obvious that the legions of Tarantino geeks out there couldn’t wait.